The Beggar Boy
"There is another one of those plagues; it is strange a person can't stir without meeting a ragged beggar. Nellie Dean, are you playing with that beggar boy again ? William, do order that insolent fellow from the gate," said the fashionable Mrs. Dean, as her silks rustled on the broad steps of their stately mansion.
The first part of her remark was to her little daughter, who had just given the little boy a boquet of the brightest flowers; the latter to the gardener. But the servant had no need to obey the order, for the child had heard the heartless words of the haughty woman, and was already moving away. Sadly the little fellow seated himself upon the steps of a church near by, with a heavy weight upon his heart, a choking in his throat. Why could not that lady have let him gaze a few moments upon those beautiful flowers, as they gently swayed to and fro in the summer breeze? It was so seldom now that he saw anything beautiful. Would his look have harmed them? Why was he hurried away before he could say "thank you" for the lovely bouquet her daughter had given him? Ah! it was because he was a ragged beggar. Perhaps she would have let him enter the garden if he were something else; but those words were too true. Yes, he had been a beggar ever since the cold clods rattled on his own dear mother's pine coffin. Closely the child pressed his hands to his beating heart, as if to still its tremulous throbbings. The crowd hurried on, passing and repassing; but he had forgotten to call for a penny from each passer-by. In imagination he was again sitting upon his mother's knee, listening to her sweet voice, as she taught him his evening prayer. Again his arms were twined about her neck; he felt her warm kisses upon his cheek, but suddenly the happy dream vanished, and those words, "a ragged beggar," came back with double force. The warm blood rushed quicker through his veins; the words paralyzed no longer, but a glance of defiance shot from the eyes of the down-trodden child as he arose and stamped his foot, with a new determination, saying aloud, " It shall not be ! I'll be a beggar no longer," and in decision and noble purpose the child of ten was transformed into a man of twenty.
" Please, sir, don't you want to hire a little boy to help you?" Our hero had asked the question to several others that he met, but to no purpose; yet, perseveringly he continued asking, and this time it was to a good-natured looking farmer, who was just getting his team ready to start for his home in the country. The man looked inquiringly into that childish face, so early marked with care, and answered :
"And if I did, what could a boy of your size do?"
"Oh, a great many things; please try me and see. I will be very good will do anything but beg; but I shall never do that again if I starve," said the child in a spirited tone.
" Have you no friends here?
"Not one friend in the world, except" (and the child blushed and looked down at his bouquet) "except Nellie Dean. She gave me this, but her mother will not let her ask me into the garden any more; but I do not blame her much, for everything is so beautiful there, and she says a beggar has no right to look at beautiful things."
"Where have you lived?" again queried the farmer.
" With a man called Jumps. His wife took me when I came home from my mother's grave, but she did not live with the old man long. He beat her so fearfully that she went away, and she would have taken me with her but Jumps refused to let me go. He said he wanted me to help him, and since then he has sent me out every day to beg, and when I go back with only a few pennies, he pounds me, calls me a lazy dog, and all sorts of hard names. O, I shall never go back there again. Please, sir, do hire me," pleaded the little waif, with tears in his eyes, as he thought of the unkindness he had received at the hands of his cruel master.
" Yes, yes, my little man, you may go home with me; and if you are a good boy you shall never want for a home and kind friends while Nate and Sallie Brown live," and a tear dimmed the brightness of the good man's eye, as he thought of his own little boy at home, nestled close in its mother's arms, and what would be its fate if left without friends in this great, heartless city. Not but that farmer Brown knew that there were many kind, Christian hearts even here, but all had their own round of duties, and no time to look after such little wanderers.
" Who have you here, Nate?" said motherly Mrs. Brown, as the ragged little boy very quietly followed the farmer into the house.
" My name is Ralph Howard," said the little boy.
After Mr. Brown had made all necessary explanations to his wife, he left to attend to his evening chores., Mrs. Brown gave the little stranger a very cordial welcome, which reminded him of his own dear mother, and his heart went out toward her with feelings of the deepest gratitude for the warm reception she had given him and the kind words she had so tenderly spoken.
That evening, after a chapter had been read from the old family Bible, a blessing was especially asked for this little friendless orphan that God had sent to their home a blessing which descended then and there upon the head of the little, weary wanderer; for ere he arose from his knees, he resolved to seek the Savior that these good people found so much comfort in serving; and he sought not in vain, for in all the after years of his life he found Him " a present help in every time of need."
Ralph Howard was, really, a fine looking lad when he came out in the new suit that his foster mother made for him, and as he viewed himself in the mirror, he wondered if Nellie would know him now, and he longed to see her and tell her of his good fortune, and how he had put her bouquet away in the little trunk his new mother had given him, and he intended to keep it always, to remind him of the little girl who was so kind to him when everybody else spoke so harshly, and all the world, except that beautiful garden, looked so gloomy.
Mr. Brown's farm was situated near Arlington, quite a large village, where most of the trading for the family and farm marketing was done; so it was seldom that he visited the city. It was nearly a year after Ralph came there that his father for he always called Mr. and Mrs. Brown father and mother asked him if he would like to go to the city with him. Ralph was delighted with the idea, for he secretly cherished the hope that he might there meet Nellie Dean; and surely his brightest hopes were realized, for there he found her by the garden gate, just as lovely and as happy as when he saw her last; but she did not recognize him. He was obliged to make himself known, which he did in the fewest words possible.
Now, this Nellie was a very little girl, only eight years old, but she was a beautiful child and had a kind heart; and when she artlessly expressed her delight at Ralph's good fortune, and so highly commended his looks and appearance, it is not to be wondered that he went away feeling quite well satisfied with himself, and thinking there was no other little girl in the world quite so good as Nellie Dean. But this was the boy's last interview with her, for when he again visited the city he found strangers occupying the splendid mansion, and learned that Mr. Dean had failed in business and gone, no one knew where.
There were good schools in the village of Arlington, and Mr. and Mrs. Brown, knowing the value of an education, determined that this child of their adoption should have an equal chance with their own children in getting one; but as they were only in moderate circumstances, as soon as Ralph was old enough to teach he objected to receiving further help from home, as it did not seem right for him to appropriate their money to himself, when his parents had five children of their own to educate. Yet, when Mr. Brown found that Ralph wished to study medicine, and practice it as a profession, he urged upon him means to take him through a thorough medical course, which he finally accepted, on the condition that he should return it to Arthur Brown when he should be prepared to enter college.
Ralph was not as quick to learn as many students in his class, but by persevering industry and close application to study, he was always prepared with good lessons, and graduated with the highest honors. After graduating at a medical college he commenced practice in the village of Arlington, and as he had grown up, respected and esteemed by all who knew him, he had no difficulty in securing patronage. A close application to business, and a thorough knowledge of his profession, won him the honor he so richly deserved. He became a wealthy man. His counsel was sought in the most difficult cases by the best physicians. His practice extended to many of the wealthiest families in the city, till, finally, he decided to purchase a home in town, and reside there. And in looking for a permanent residence, what more natural than that his mind should revert to the place that had once been the home of Nellie Dean. No sooner had the plan suggested itself than he decided, if such a thing were possible, it should be his; and but a few weeks had elapsed before a family had moved in, with whom he was to board, and he was comfortably settled in that home now more beautiful than ever before from the gate of which he, as a ragged beggar, was to have been ordered some eighteen years ago. Ralph had never married, though the proudest lady in his circle of acquaintances would gladly have given him her daughter's hand; yet, whenever he thought of taking a wife, his mind would turn to that faded bouquet, and he would wonder if somewhere, in the wide world, he should not yet find the giver, and claim the hand that gave it as his own.
Now, my young reader, you must not suppose that Ralph Howard became good, or wise, or great in a moment, though he did become all of these, and because he first sought that which was best goodness; but it was only through patient perseverance that success crowned his efforts. His trials and temptations were, no doubt, quite as many as you have. He was naturally quick tempered, but when feelings of anger arose as they sometimes will in every boy's life he would restrain them, by keeping back the hasty word. As a stream of water is not pure except it be ruffled by a current, so a life is not grand except it hath met and coped with difficulties. Many a time, when a school-boy, was he taunted with the occupation of his early life, and sometimes his arm would be raised to strike the offender; then he would think what would my Heavenly Father, and angel mother think of me if I should do this, and the arm would fall powerless at his side. Every time that he thus conquered self, it was a conquest greater than when a soldier in battle has taken a city.
It was a cold, bleak night in December. The winds howled a doleful requiem, and the cold rain poured down as if the "King of Furies" would spend his whole force upon the dark earth. Dr. Howard sat in his easy chair, before a brightly blazing fire, poring over the evening papers, when suddenly the door opened and a young woman, thinly clad, entered, and begged him, in tones of the deepest distress, to follow her to the bedside of her sick mother, who, she feared, even now was dying. The doctor looked earnestly into the face of the stranger, and somehow it reminded him of a beggar, longingly looking at beautiful flowers, but there was no time now to think, and he hastily prepared to follow her into the street, for he could not linger, or resist that earnest pleading, even on such a night as this. On, on they went, past brilliantly-lighted mansions, to where the streets began to •narrow and the buildings look rusty, down a dirty lane, then up a rickety pair of stairs, into a scantily-furnished apartment, where lay the emaciated form of the sick mother.
One glance at that face was all that was needed to tell the doctor that he was standing in the presence of the once proud and haughty Mrs. Dean. It perhaps was well that she could not recognize him, for a thought of the changes she had passed through since that time would have been more than she could, at that moment, have endured; but for the daughter's sake the woman must, if possible, recover. All that night he watched by her bedside, his skill being taxed to the utmost; but just as day began to dawn he saw faint hopes of her recovery. Then he left her, to order comforts and conveniences, which he knew, by the surroundings, the daughter had no means to procure. The doctor watched his patient closely, till he deemed her out of danger, and sometimes, perhaps, he called when his visits were not necessary, only to his own happiness, for he found Nellie Dean quite as attractive now as he did when she was a little girl. For several years past she had supported herself and invalid mother by giving music lessons for her father (lied soon after his failure in business but for several months before her mother's present illness she had been sick herself, and unable to earn anything. This misfortune, with her mother's long illness, had reduced them to their present distressing circumstances.
Ralph Howard did not make himself known to Nellie as the beggar boy till after their wedding day was appointed. One day he sent his carriage to bring the mother and daughter to their former home, so soon to be theirs again, and when Nellie and he were by themselves, he brought out the faded bouquet and told its history.
We will not attempt to say what were the feelings of Mrs. Dean, a short time after, when she learned that she owed life, health and happiness to that ragged beggar, now the distinguished Dr. Howard and husband of her only child. But we trust that the reverses of fortune had made her a wiser and better woman.
( Originally Published 1887 )
Sunny Side Sketches For Young & Old:
The Beggar Boy
The Drunkard's Home
Intoxicants In The Home
Out In The Storm
Grandmother's Letter Box
Rest At Last
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